Chelsea's Didier Drogba replacement close to home
Chelsea opinion: Romelu Lukaku can become one of the most feared strikers in Europe
In the Summer of 2010 Anderlecht had just won the Belgian Championship and at the tender age of 16 Romelu Lukaku had finished as the league’s top goalscorer.
A year later, in the summer of 2011, Chelsea spent an estimated £20 million to bring him to the English Premier League.
The big Belgian owned a Chelsea shirt before he joined the club and he stated that rather than replace the great Didier Drogba he wanted to learn from him. Lukaku’s development, which had at this point led to comparisons with Chelsea’s legendary striker, faltered under the management of first Andre Vilas-Boas and then Roberto Di Matteo.
He was competing with Drogba himself and the much maligned Fernando Torres for a first team place. However in the 2011-2012 season a move was not forthcoming and by the time Chelsea won the Champions League title in May Lukaku had only made eight first team appearances.
At the start of the 2012-13 season, following Drogba’s exit from Chelsea, Lukaku also left the club as he moved on loan to West Bromwich Albion. Since joining the Baggies he has scored 13 goals in 26 appearances under ex-Chelsea Assistant Manager Steve Clarke - a fantastic record for a man who is still only 19 years old.
He has proven at Anderlecht, with 33 goals in 73 appearances, and West Brom that he is a goalscorer, and has already won 19 caps for the senior Belgium side. For his age Lukaku is a physical phenomenon, at 19 he has the stature and appearance of a seasoned international.
This leads to questions about whether Chelsea should take a chance in the 2013-14 season, bring Lukaku back from West Brom and give an opportunity to a young man who has so far in his short career made great strides.
It is unquestionable that since Didier Drogba left the West London side they have struggled for power and presence in the final third of the pitch. Since Jose Mourinho joined the club in 2004 Chelsea have setup in a 4-5-1 system, a spearheading striker has become a necessity rather than a preference.
Drogba fulfilled this role - never more emphatically than last season when goals against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, Bayern Munich in the final, Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final and Liverpool in the final help Chelsea to achieve an unlikely double under Roberto Di Matteo.
Jose Mourinho described Drogba as his "favorite player". There is no doubt that Drogba will be remembered for the moments of greatness rather than the instances of melodrama or the slap on Nemanja Vidic that earned a red card in the 2008 Champions League final.
The problem for Chelsea moving forward is that Fernando Torres has not and may never fit the bill of the lone striker and Demba Ba has struggled to find fitness and consistency since his move from Newcastle.
Can Lukaku live up to the fee and achieve the legendary status he yearns for at Chelsea FC - the club where his idol became a hero? It would appear that he can. From his debut at the age of 16 for Anderlecht he appears to have taken each move up the ladder in his stride.
Playing for his country, becoming the Belgian league’s premier marksmen, commanding a huge fee to one of Europe’s top sides and now a regular goal scorer in one of the world’s top competitions.
If as reported Jose Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge in the summer, Lukaku might just get the chance to demonstrate the talent and potential that has brought him so far earlier than expected. Mourinho is not afraid to take a risk; he has thrown 19-year-old Raphael Varane into the starting eleven of one of the biggest clubs in the world at Real Madrid, in important games against Manchester United and Barcelona.
If “The Special One” were to return to Chelsea in the summer, a Chelsea without his “favourite player” a player he brought to the club, he may feel he has a readymade replacement in Lukaku.
If that is the case it will be up to Lukaku to prove to the manager, the fans and most importantly the owner that he can hold his own and go on to be a Chelsea legend.
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